McAlister reminisces about time on councilPublished 11:15am Friday, January 18, 2013
Brian McAlister may not serve on the Austin City Council this year, but he has plenty of experience to share with council members and residents. McAlister served on the council for eight years before declaring he wouldn’t run for re-election last summer. The following is a Q-and-A on his time on the council, his desire to serve the public, and the methods he used to be an effective council member.
Q. Why did you want to become a city council member?
A. Pretty much my entire employment history has been in the public sector. I was with the Austin Police Department for a number of years, in case you didn’t know that. I feel that’s important, to be involved in the community. Over a period of years I was on the school board, for 12 years, and was not re-elected. I retired from the police department a couple years later. Whoever was in the position I was didn’t run again, and I thought maybe that would be interesting. … I just thought maybe it’s time to see how things are done. It’s kind of a privilege to be in a position like that and to serve the community. The people of the First Ward in my place elected me, and that’s a way of saying we trust you to take care of the business. You have to try to consciously approach that and do the best you can, knowing that people might not agree with you, and you have to live with that.
Q. What are some of your fondest memories on the city council?
A. For the most part, I enjoyed working with council members, hearing their opinions, and a lot of times that would help you out. I really appreciated working with the staff. We have good people who are working there and knowledgeable. Whenever I approached them saying I don’t understand, they were always there to help me. Those kinds of relationships and learning opportunities were what I really enjoyed the most.
Q. Why did you decide not to run once again?
A. I was not feeling as good as I should, and I felt that sooner or later you find the time that you should let go and do something else. I felt that it was time to let go and do something else, and let someone step in and do the work.
Q. What advice would you have for other council members? Not just incoming members, but the council as a whole?
A. I wouldn’t frame it as advice, but before every meeting you get a booklet full of materials, and you need to read through that. Most council members will have areas they’re comfortable. Maybe they enjoy finance and understand that, or maybe they like personnel.
Read the booklet. If you have questions about things, I always preferred to call ahead of the meetings and ask questions.
Take advantage of the expertise of the department people and let them help you figure out things that are working.
The other thing is you were elected by the people of your ward, and if they call you about something, get back to them as soon as you can. If you have the knowledge to answer them, fine, but I’d refer them to a department … so they feel like their question was at least responded to. You may not like the answer, but at least you got your question answered.
The other thing I’d like to do, if I could, is during periods when we’re having discussions about some issue, I’d prefer to lay back and let other people speak their piece. About 90 percent of the time, all my questions were answered and it helped me frame any other questions in a better way after listening to others.